Gene Ammons

Nice an' Cool

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A 1961 set of standards heavy on the ballads, Nice 'n Cool is prime Gene Ammons. In front of a sympathetic piano-bass-drums trio (Richard Wyands, Doug Watkins, and the great J.C. Heard, respectively), Ammons' brilliantly soulful tenor saxophone really stretches out on the familiar melodies, but the relatively concise arrangements (all of the eight tracks are between three and eight minutes, with most hovering around the five-minute mark) don't allow him to wander too far afield as he occasionally does on less structured sessions. Nice 'n Cool is first and foremost a mood album, with the unity of sound more important than the individual performances, but Ammons particularly shines on the extended opener, a tender, restrained version of The Music Man's "Til There Was You" that sidesteps the mawkishness of many interpretations in favor of a dignified grace. The backing trio is excellent throughout, although Wyands' too-brief solo passages do make the listener wish that the pianist had been given more of a chance to shine.

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